• Libertarianism, Anarchism, Monopolies and Land

    by  • November 13, 2014 • Everything Else • 4 Comments

    A follow up to my bitcoin magazine interview on natural monopolies, cartels and power law distribution of wealth.

    Nothing special is required to constitute the State within strict libertarian thinking. It is simply a monopoly landowner: that is the _definition_ of the State if we are honest. You do not like this, but it is the clearest and simplest rendering of what the State is. The State is not a special case, and sovereignty, taxation etc. are all (within libertarian principles) simply outcomes of the State-as-landowner. Its powers are the powers of a landowner, and they are onerous by virtue of the State’s monopoly: nothing more, but nothing less. Can you list attributes of the State which are incompatible with property-rights based analysis of its status? I would be surprised, but I can be convinced. I am not doctrinaire about this. It is experimental politics.

    Within libertarian thought, it’s clear that a landowner can set any terms they like for access to their land. The state is simply a monopoly landowner; it’s laws are nothing but terms and conditions; it’s taxes nothing but agreed rents. You choose to stay on its soil past the age of majority, and this constitutes consent. Your parents/guardians choose to keep you on its soil, and this constitutes their consent on your behalf while you are still a minor, as would be made for medical procedures or contracts with you as a beneficiary. The State’s authority comes from nothing more than its ownership of the land you stand on, and your consenting to a set of rules by choosing to stay on its land, or having your guardians choose this for you.

    As soon as you become honest about the state’s status as nothing but a corporate landowner managing and defending its property, the idea that libertarian property rights result in freedom simply collapse. The system we have is the result of a landowner exercising libertarian rights to set terms and conditions for access to its land.

    There is no solid intellectual ground for the fairy tale that the State is a special case: it uses violence to collect rents from those who choose to remain on its property, nothing less, and nothing more. If you will stay, you will pay.

    The State is nothing but a company that owns all the land, and its laws are legitimized by libertarian thought because their force and legitimacy emerges from property rights. This analysis applies even to non-state anarchocapitalists of all because once we admit the State is just another landowner, how are we to pry land from the State to do something more interesting? There is no legitimate grounds for rebellion against a landowner managing its property within these systems of thought.

    As for the argument that the State’s hold on its land is invalidated by violence, let me make three counterarguments.

    * It has been suggested that those who are current landowners should have their claims to the land they own normalized, on the basis that they did not personally commit the violence which first took the land from its homesteaded state in deep antiquity. This also applies to the State-as-landowner. If current landowner claims are legitimate, so are the State’s prior-and-superior claims.

    * The legal status of land owned by the State is very, very clear in many historical cases: land discovered by explorers paid directly by a king or queen and then claimed while still empty. Mostly that land is barren rocks, but not all of it. There is no doubt that the State as a corporation has at least some legitimate land ownership, discovered free of violence, in some cases.

    * This may leave some number of Virgin Birth Homesteads – land that was peacefully settled *before* any other entity, including the State, had claimed the territory or improved it by providing protection from external threats to those who lived there, and which has been passed down on a voluntary basis ever since. I will grant that enclosure of those VBHs is theft; however, I challenge anybody to find a clearly historically documented example of the same.

    Maybe New Zealand has some tribal areas that qualify, or Hawaii. But I’d be stunned if anything equivalent can be found in Europe, or America. Even in the US, 12000 years of settlement has left plenty of time to wipe out VHBs.

    There is no intellectually honest way to render the current States as illegitimate within libertarian thinking. I know people hate this conclusion, but it is so. To escape it, you either have to do unseemly mental gymnastics to distinguish between the State’s rights as a landowner and its right to perform its activities, or you have to do the intellectually honest and brave thing, and admit that the state *proves* that property rights can be used to take away other people’s freedom, and therefore have to take a back seat to civil rights. When there is a conflict between freedom and property – and the State-as-monopoly-landowner argument proves that such conflict exists – freedom must win. Not property.

    As I have said for many years: “free people will make free markets, but free markets will not necessarily make free people.”

    Anarchism has for too long been a creature of the antis, of those who protest the status quo with no realistic vision of how to move forwards. Anarchocapitalism, in a world that started with fifty million landowners with allodial title on Virgin Birth Homesteads might work just fine, although the tendency to collapse towards rule-by-monopolies would likely be strong. But in the world we are in, those rules of play simply act to legitimize the State on the basis that its ownership of land legitimises its later activities. You can’t legitimize your claim that property rights produce freedom until facing down the simple truth: the State is just a landowner.

    As I have admitted, anarchism is in equally bad intellectual shape. I can take an equally nasty look at their first principles and drive bloody great holes in them too. All of these political ideologies are getting rapidly outdated by events, from 11 billion people crushing the ecosystem through to transhumanism. We desperately need ground-up rethinks of all of these political positions relative to the facts that actually pertain in the world that we are living in. We need clear, coherent answers – very hard for freedom-based systems – to how we avoid ecological destruction in the name of freedom.

    I’m not hostile to libertarianism on behalf of a more-perfect anarchy. Rather, I see that the anarchist critique of libertarianism is valid, and so is the libertarian critique of anarchism.

    I do not have satisfactory answers, yet. Neither do you. But if we let the old stuff go, based on shoddy axioms and lacking the necessary teeth to manage humanity’s total environmental impact, including one-acre-at-a-time problems like deforestation, perhaps together we can find a better way: something that fully respects liberty and ecology, without wishing to pretend there is a better human nature, and in full sight of the awful abuses of power which are normal in government. But we have to raise the bar here, and with a little luck, now you know it too.

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    Vinay Gupta is a consultant on disaster relief and risk management.


    4 Responses to Libertarianism, Anarchism, Monopolies and Land

    1. A Reader
      November 13, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      Hi Vinay!

      I agreed very much with your connecting of government and land and I enjoyed this read.

      You don’t have to answer this, but I was wondering, what would your thoughts on other strains of anarchy, e.g. anarcho-communism? Since anarcho-communism favours sharing land, direct democracy, etc, do you think it could be a solution to our current problematic system? (especially if ecological needs are addressed by the direct democracy, who is probably more willing to do this than government will).

    2. November 13, 2014 at 11:45 pm

      Some libertarians are more stringent than others on what current land titles they’d invalidate. At his most thoroughgoing, Rothbard said all feudal land titles should be nullified in favor of those working the land, and all titles to vacant and unimproved land (and all absentee ownership of currently occupied land originally dating to such titles) should be nullified.

    3. November 14, 2014 at 3:05 am

      hear hear!

    4. Jeff Wegerson
      November 14, 2014 at 7:10 pm

      How delicious! What a coup you have scored by pulling the property rug out from under libertarianism. I have found libertarianism interesting at times but never compelling enough to integrate into much of my own thinking. I suspect now that my own jaundiced view of property was at the heart of my lack of further pursuit.

      I also find kindred your independence of/from specific ideological purities. Years ago I was of much purer ideological stance.

      How to the there (where ever there is) from here? Years ago I felt/thought/believed in a concept of a voter utility. Various iterations have floated through my thinking. I still find myself thinking that there is merit in the direction, even as computing machines and networks have evolved.

      My recent discovery of your Cheap/ID thinking once again put fresh fire under my own thinking. Machine mediated Voter Utilities always have issues around identity and security. The easiest way around those issues is to remove authority from their effects. That is to say they can only advise not dictate. Even so there can be tremendous power exercised merely through concerted opinion.

      Firstly a Voter Utility must be self-owned in order to have credibility. Not corporate nor government owned. Likely mediated by it’s own services. It must eat it’s own dog food. Secondly it must be universal. Another reason not to be government owned as governments lack trans-nationality at this time. Universality implies that it could be useful to a broad spectrum of political thought. Naturally, a Voter Utility would not be of much if any use to dictatorial concentrations of power.

      Since it would be of use to diverse constituents it must thirdly be [and here I am searching for the best words] decentral and distributive of its services. Likely fractal in nature in that comparable utility would exist at various orders of magnitude. It must scale up and down as needed.

      And fourthly as has come be to expected it must be user-friendly and easy to use. Like a well designed app.

      I have always pictured in my mind delegated real-time systems of representation. Delegated to include trees of delegation, root, trunk, branch, stem and leaf. Real time in that one can change whom one delegates for which questions at any time. Delegation can exist both by category as well as specific question. At each level on can cast ones own choice directly without delegation should one choose.

      There are a lot of angelic potentials I have not mentioned as well as the devilish details. Over the years I have only noticed two candidates that seem to maybe moving in the directions I would expect: Liquid Democracy in Germany (http://www.interaktive-demokratie.org/index.en.html) and Loomio in New Zealand (https://www.loomio.org/).

      My only intent here is to “put a bug in your ear.” Of course these days that phrase is likely way too loaded to actually use>

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